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Raising children: ‘Het komt wel goed, schatje!’

Note: This post was first published back in February, 2011. It still applies.

I was reminded recently of a commercial on Dutch TV, in which a young boy is picked up at school by his mother. As he approaches her, he’s clearly upset, and though I can’t catch all that he says, it’s clear that he hates school and doesn’t ever want to go back.

After they walk home, they sit at the kitchen table, where his mother pours him a glass of juice, saying ‘Het komt wel goed, schatje.’

a still from the Roosvicee ad

a still from the Roosvicee ad

This loosely translates as ‘It’ll turn out okay, sweetheart.’

Then the father walks in, looking upset too, and tells them that the promotion went to someone else instead of him. The boy hands his father a glass of juice and says ‘Het komt wel goed, schatje.’

I was reminded of the commercial when I was bicycling along thinking about many students I’ve had (and my own son), who aren’t willing to do the work necessary to do well in school. We call them lazy or unmotivated, and they are, but I was trying to figure out why they’re that way. I think it may have to do with a belief in ‘Het komt wel goed, schatje,’ that seems to have become ingrained in Western culture.

What inspires kids to do their best? The usual answers have to do with either intrinsic or extrinsic motivation: having a goal or finding the material interesting, or feeling a sense of competition, for example. Those all work in one way or another, though I’d suggest that only the first—having a goal—can help a student sustain motivation over a longer period.

But what I was trying to figure out was: what are we doing that allows kids to feel that they don’t have to do their best? How can they feel secure about their future?

Raising children who take everything for granted

And it seems to me that in the Western world—not just here in Holland—that’s the problem: we’ve been raising children who feel too safe. Everything has always turned out okay. They always got the toy they wanted eventually. Their parents always solved whatever problem came their way. And, of course, they always could depend on having enough to eat and clean clothes to wear and a roof over their heads. And if they’ve always had this security, their feeling is: ‘Why should it ever change? This will always be so. The world will take care of me.’

This complete and absolute confidence that everything will be taken care of takes away any motivation to do well in school.

Think about the kids who do their best, who really try hard at school. Of course, that description probably applies to every kid who attends school anywhere in the developing world. They’re motivated because their existence is not secure. They can’t be sure of having enough to eat or clean clothes to wear or a roof over their heads (Forget the toy: it’s not in the realm of their experience.). School is their ticket to security, and they know it. So, despite hunger or helping care for siblings or working the fields after school or not having books or lighting to study by, they work their butts off to do their best.

Of course, in the West, there are certainly kids who try hard. My guess is that those are kids with a clear and difficult goal. How that goal became so clear, and how they came to the realization that they would have to work hard to reach it? I don’t know. Or perhaps those are kids who have experienced deprivation of some sort: lost a home or a parent or gone hungry in the past.

But the rest don’t achieve as much. We tell our students, like I tell my son, that they have to do well, work hard, try their best, in order to succeed in the ‘real world.’ In the end, for many of them, it will turn out okay: through luck, or connections, or the help of their parents. Or perhaps they’ll gain motivation as they get older, go back to school, make up for their laziness as teenagers. But for many, they’re in for a real slap in the face: it won’t turn out okay. They won’t be adequately prepared for the kind of career they want, and won’t live in the ‘style to which they’ve become accustomed,’ unless their parents continue to support them.

Raising children better

The thing is: for the father who didn’t get the promotion, ‘Het komt wel goed’ isn’t true. A glass of juice won’t make it all better, and neither will his parents. He has to make it on his own, and through his own efforts. How can we teach our children this in a way that they’ll really believe it?

8 Comments

  • Anne Yedlin

    March 24, 2015 at 3:28 pm

    What a wonderful way to think! No matter how bad we think things might be, “It’ll be okay, sweetheart”! I am going to remember this every day! Thank you for such an eye opening post!!

    Reply
    • rachel75

      March 24, 2015 at 9:02 pm

      It’s a tough line to draw: we want them to feel safe, but we also want them to learn to take responsibility for their own lives as they grow up. How do we get both messages across? Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
    • Thea Adam

      May 24, 2015 at 3:52 am

      I wonder if Anne Yedlin read your eye opening thoughts to the finish. She seems to believe that the magic words will do the trick. No, the mantra won’t help us in life unless we really work hard for whatever it is that we are aiming at. In eastern cultures they also have a similar mantra. Leave it to God. God will take care of you. Whether you fail or succeed, it’s all God’s will.

      Reply
      • Thea Adam

        May 24, 2015 at 4:26 am

        Maybe what made Anne Yedlin find encouraging is the socio psychology behind the mantra. Not all families are as loving and supporting as the one portrayed in the commercial. How many mothers have the time to pick up their sulky kids from school? How many husbands are eligible for a career promotion? Some kids are sent to school just to stay out of trouble. Some husbands don’t even have a job. A great many wives don’t have the luxury of offering a glass of juice and lovingly say “S’okay, sweetheart, everything will turn out well in the end.” Most people have no shoulder to cry on in times of need.

        Commercials reconnect us to a a primordial longing that we have long buried. I live in Jakarta, Rachel. I notice here that people who come from caring families do indeed become better off in life. Either through marriage, network, or higher education. It’s loners who have to struggle the hardest.

        Reply
      • rachel75

        May 24, 2015 at 6:38 am

        I suppose it’s a choice for optimism in the face of contrary evidence. Or you could use it as motivation: it’ll all be all right if I continue to make the effort to make it turn out all right…

        Reply
        • rachel75

          May 24, 2015 at 6:48 am

          Okay, that last reply was to your first comment, before I saw your second comment in my spam box!
          Certainly commercials idealize. That family is how we picture families to be, even in the face of contrary evidence. And that mom tells us everything will be all right if we drink that juice. So buying the juice makes us think we can come closer to the ideal… and we’ll be let down if we don’t have the supportive middle-class family to go with it.

          Reply
  • Amy Nielson

    March 24, 2015 at 5:51 pm

    I have been working with a daughter who needed to feel a bit more accountability for her happiness. I’m trying to teach her that you give it your best instead of just hoping things turn out.

    Reply

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